Doing a bit of trip planning before your first time in Bangkok?
GIRL, or guy, I get it! I have SO been there!
And let me tell you, I was HELLA nervous before my first time in Bangkok, even though it’s amazing and definitely one of the best cities in Thailand for culture lovers!
No idea why but it all just all seemed so foreign and so intimidating, even though I was living in South Korea at the time and was definitely not a native Korean (Yes, news that is shocking to now one).
In my defense though:
I had heard about like 10,000 different scams that I should avoid prior to my trip, so that definitely didn’t help my nerves and kept me from exploring Bangkok at night.
I wish I could sit here and say, “O-M-G, my first trip to Bangkok was amazing and it left me counting down the minutes until I could return.”
But that would be the biggest lie ever.
Because truth be told, I absolutely HATED Bangkok after my first trip here and really had no desire to ever return.
I think I literally fell for every scam humanly possible; an experience that left a really bad taste in my mouth.
I just recently returned to Bangkok and am delighted to report that I absolutely fell head over heels in love with this amazing city the second time around.
Which is why I am writing this post about some of the things you need to know before traveling to Thailand.
I want you to avoid all the mistakes that I made during my first time in Bangkok so that you too can develop an unhealthy obsession with this wickedly wonderful city.
Because let’s be real:
Unlike unbelievably lucky me, you may only ever be able to visit Bangkok once, and may not even have all that much time here.
If you’re empathetically nodding your head in agreement, then keep reading because I’m about to divulge all of the total rookie mistakes that I made during my very first time in Bangkok.
If you’re baller level awesome and can somehow manage to avoid all of these epic, Bangkok travel fails, then I can almost guarantee that you’ll leave this place joyfully frolicking through the streets while writing ethereal love sonnets about this magical metropolis.
Because yes, Bangkok really is THAT awesome.
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***Not sure where to stay in Bangkok? I stayed at the Patumwan House and enjoyed it. I mean, is it the greatest hotel in Bangkok? No, but for just $40 per night, you get a comfy bed, a warm shower, and a spacious room that includes a small kitchenette (Perfect for storing all my snacks! HOORAY). Plus, this hotel is really well located and within walking distance of a ferry stop and Ratchathewi station, which sits along the Sukhumvit Line of the BTS. However, if you’re looking for something a bit swankier, then you can always try 103- Bed and Brews. Located right on the edge of Bangkok’s Chinatown, this small, exquisitely restored, 100-year-old building has just six large rooms that start at $40 per night. All of the rooms here are fully refurbished and include balconies, teak wood floors, and luxurious, antique furniture. What, still haven’t found the perfect place to stay in Bangkok? Then try the Prince Heritage Theatre Stay? I know the name is a bit weird but this hotel is close to the river (and Chinatown) and has rooms that start at just $32 per night. Set inside a fully refurbished, historic, Art Deco style cinema, this hotel has four spacious suites, as well as several, well-appointed dorm rooms that are perfect for anyone traveling to Bangkok on a budget.***
1. Taking a Taxi from the Airport
Yeah, this rookie mistake is wrong on so many levels.
First of all:
There are two separate, international airports in Bangkok, Suvarnabhumi and Don Muang, both of which are pretty far from the city center.
Grab a taxi from the metered taxi stand and not only will you have to pay a hefty price (there is an automatic, 50 Baht airport surcharge), since taxis in Bangkok are really not THAT cheap to begin with, but you might also get ripped off too.
If you get a taxi from the designated taxi stand, the good thing is that not only will the driver have to use the meter, but you’ll also get a ticket with the address of your destination on it, something you can use to help resolve any possible issues later.
Not ALL taxi drivers in Bangkok are totally awesome and honest. Sure, many are, but some are not.
My first time in Bangkok, I arrived at the airport really late at night and basically had to take a taxi into the city since everything else was closed.
Which was totally fine, until I arrived at my hotel.
Not only was the fare OBSCENELY high, but the taxi driver refused to give me my change.
And since I was young, tired, and didn’t want to cause a scene, I let it go.
This is an all too common situation that you’ll want to avoid with Bangkok taxis in general (They also sometimes give you back less change than you deserve. Therefore, try to give your driver as close to exact change as possible).
If you’re flying into Suvarnabhumi, avoid the taxi altogether and use the airport rail link instead.
Not only is it cheaper, but the journey will take just about 40 minutes since yeah, no traffic.
And depending on where you’re staying:
You’ll probably want to get off at either Makkasan or Phaya Thai station.
You can take one of the many buses that depart from the airport and that travel into the city center, but traffic can be a bit of a nightmare in Bangkok and is something that you might want to avoid, especially during rush hour.
There is no direct rail link from Don Muang airport to the city center. WOMP, WOMP, WOMP.
If you fly into this airport, you can always take the Express, Airport Limo Bus, for 150 Baht, to Lumpini Park, and then just catch either the MRT or BTS from there.
You can be a real, money-saving fool and take either the A1 or A2 bus instead.
For the bargain-basement price of 30 Baht:
You can board the bus at the airport and then just get off at the last stop, which is at Mo Chit.
Once you get off the bus:
Walk a mere 20 meters to either the BTS or MRT station and get off at the station that is closest to your hotel (if you walk to the second set of stairs, you can ride an escalator up to the BTS).
Go forth, avoid taxis, save money, and use all of your ample savings on one epic, Thai massage instead.
***PSST: If you arrive during the weekend, stop by Chatuckak Weekend Market while you’re at Mo Chit station. Just leave your luggage in an available luggage locker and use the sky bridge to cross the street.***
2. Staying at a Hotel in the Middle of Nowhere (For a list of some of my favorite Bangkok hotels, check out the bolded section that is right after the intro)
For the love of God and all that is holy, do your research and choose your hotel wisely.
Not all of Bangkok has equal access to a variety of different public transportation systems, like the MRT and BTS.
Bangkok’s metro system is a somewhat recent development.
As a result:
Only about half of the city is connected to either the MRT or BTS rail networks.
Stay at a hotel in the outskirts of the city and you’ll be forced to either walk or take a bus everywhere.
And since Bangkok is HUGE, and traffic plentiful:
Choosing a poorly located hotel can be very limiting and make it extremely difficult (aka time-consuming) to get around the city.
Because real talk?
Nothing ruins a vacation faster than spending hours in a bus (with no AC mind you), stuck in traffic, and not seeing a damn thing.
I made this mistake the first time I was in Bangkok and it was very unfun indeed.
That was MANY years ago when my phone was very un-smart and I couldn’t just use google maps to figure out which bus to take to visit all of the top attractions in Bangkok.
Regardless of modern, cell phone-related, technological advances, that now makes it easier than ever to use the bus in a foreign country, do try and book a hotel that is within walking distance of either a BTS or MRT station.
Doing this will make it so much easier to get around Bangkok efficiently, and without spending a small fortune.
Because in all honesty:
I don’t know too many people who can afford to take taxis everywhere. Nor would you want to, given my past, personal experiences.
Wait, wanna be a real Bangkok, travel pro?
Then try and find a hotel that is within walking distance of both a pier and an MRT/BTS station (talk about the UNICORN of the Bangkok hotel world).
Doing this will earn you about a million brownie points with the Bangkok travel gods since you’ll be able to use both the rail system AND the ferry system to get around the city.
This is one of the main reasons why I booked a room at Patumwan House. That and the fact that the rooms here cost less than $40 a night and include a kitchenette.
See, travel dreams really do come true!
3. Thinking the Sidewalk is just for People
You thought the sidewalk in Bangkok was for people who just don’t want to bob and weave through traffic (like in a real-life version of Frogger that no one actually wants to play)?
That is so sweet, but sadly, no.
See, when you’re in Bangkok, you’ll be walking along the sidewalk, minding your own business, just casually thinking about what you’re gonna eat next (or maybe that’s just me).
All of a sudden, you’ll hear the soft purr of an engine behind you.
Casually turn around and you’ll come face to face with a motorbike that is tearing up the sidewalk.
They definitely won’t mow you over if you don’t move, but it’s still a pretty good idea to step to the side so that they can drive past.
Moral of the story? Be mindful of people riding motorbikes along the sidewalk and move out of the way when you see, or hear, them coming.
4. Standing ALL the way at the end of the BTS/MRT platform
I HATE crowds and try to avoid them like the plague.
Like any mildly rationale human being, I try to stand all the way at the edge of the platform when waiting for the metro.
I can avoid the hordes of people who are mindlessly walking around, glued to their cell phones, and totally oblivious of where they’re going and who they are bumping into (No judgment here since I should probably have my phone surgically implanted in my hand for convenience).
And this strategy usually works…until I came to Bangkok.
Because news flash, my travel-loving homies:
The trains in Thailand’s capital are pretty dang short and never really extend all the way to the edge of the waiting platform.
Stand all the way at the edge of the BTS/MRT station and you’ll find yourself making a mad dash for the middle of the platform, where the train actually ends.
To avoid an impromptu, fifty yard dash, try to stand in the middle of the platform, in between the two sets of stairs that lead you onto (and away from) the waiting platform.
And you’ll look like an ultra-savvy local who super cooly walks onto the train while all the other tourists are frantically running around like a group of Millennials who have just found a new craft beer bar that serves nothing but vegan, avocado toast.
5. Wearing Shorts and a Tank Top to a Temple AKA Wat (And this goes for the men out there too)
If you’re in Bangkok for even five minutes:
Then you’ll notice all of these gorgeous AF Buddhist temples everywhere.
The ones with the vibrant colors, the ornate decorations, and the rooftops that are dripping in gold and bling of every variety imaginable.
Well, chances are:
You’ll probably want to see some of the most famous temples in the city during your first time in Bangkok; iconic places like Wat Phra Kaew (Temple of the Emerald Buddha) Wat Pho (Temple of the Reclining Buddha) Wat Saket (The Golden Mount), and Wat Arun Ratchavararamduring (PSST: That was my not-so-subtle way of telling you that those are all of the MOST famous temples in Bangkok that you’ll probably want to see while you’re here).
Because Bangkok can sometimes feel surface of the sun level hot, you might be tempted to wear shorts and a tank top while doing a bit of temple hopping.
See, the dress code at all of these temples is strictly enforced (You’ll also have to pay to enter all of these temples).
if you’re shoulders and legs are not covered, then you won’t be able to enter the temple until they are, men included.
To avoid having to buy, or rent, clothing when you arrive at a temple, try to wear shorts, skirts, or dresses that fall below the knee, as well as shirts that cover your shoulders.
Do this and you won’t have to pay to rent clothing at every temple you visit.
The fee to rent clothing isn’t huge, but it can add up if you decide to visit multiple temples in one day.
And while you can absolutely buy a cheap pair of elephant pants from a vendor near the temple:
Let’s be honest, no one really wants to buy a pair of pants that they are gonna wear a grand total of once.
Yeah, thanks but no thanks.
Also, I would try and wear shoes that you can easily slip in and out of (not flip flops), since all of these temples will not allow you to wear shoes inside most of the buildings.
While you can totally rock an awesome pair of lace-up sneakers, you might get tired of tying and untying them every time you want to go inside a building.
Dress in temple appropriate attire and you’ll make the process of sightseeing in Bangkok about 10,000 times easier.
6. Not Carrying Cash with you at ALL Times
So, this news is probably not all that shocking to most people out there.
Just use this as an ever friendly, Girl with the Passport reminder to always carry at least 1000 Baht with you at all times, depending on your daily budget.
It’s not like Bangkok is stuck in the stone ages and paying with a credit card is totally unheard of.
You can definitely pay with a credit card at most major stores, restaurants, and hotels.
That’s where the credit card and acceptance ends.
Even many large restaurants have a credit card minimum of around 500 Baht, a limit that can be tricky to exceed if you’re dining alone.
Just assume nobody accepts credit cards and always carry cash…or your debit card since there are ATMs everywhere.
They’re in the BTS stations, outside of EVERY 7-11 in the city, and basically within a five-foot radius of you at all times, no matter where you are in Bangkok.
You can always just carry your debit card with you and easily withdraw money if you find yourself running a bit low on cash.
Do be careful and try to make as few ATM, cash withdrawals as possible since you’ll get hit with foreign transaction fees every time you withdraw money.
If you can, try and gauge how much money you will need for your entire trip to Bangkok (or Thailand) so that you can withdraw all your money at once, thus avoiding the horror of seeing multiple, foreign transaction fees on your debit card statement.
If you don’t exactly feel comfortable walking around Bangkok with oodles of cash in your bag, you can always just take what you need for the day (I so the same in Antwerp) and leave the rest of your money inside your hotel room safe (Just don’t forget to lock it! Talk about an EPIC travel fail). This way you can enjoy brunch in Bangkok without any issues.
7. Basking in the GLORY of the Sun
The sun in Bangkok, and Thailand in general, is next level strong.
STAY OUT OF THE SUN as much as you can!
I mean, the sun isn’t exactly great for your skin, to begin with.
When the UV rays are this, HELLA fierce, you want to make sure that you have a hat, an umbrella, and sunscreen with you at ALL times.
Your skin will always be protected, even if you plan on spending the entire day outside.
Now, I know I sound like a super lame, insanely overprotective mom right now, but honestly:
Even if you do all of this, I can almost guarantee that you will still come back from Bangkok with a tan since the sun here is THAT intense.
While you may want to return from your very THAI vacay with a nice, bronze hue that you can show off to all of your gal pals, whatever you do, do NOT seek out the sun.
I was outside yesterday for a grand total of two hours, practically bathed in SPF 70+ sunscreen before I left my hotel room, and still managed to get sunburned.
My skin is a Casper the friendly ghost shade of white.
I know I’m not the only one out there who burns like it’s her job.
Most Anglo-Saxon foreigners tend to sizzle like bacon in Thailand’s ultra harsh rays.
Do as the locals do and whenever you see shade, don’t walk, run to it!; even if you’re just waiting for the bus or going from one Bangkok attraction to the next.
Because in my humble experience:
While you’ll never regret spending too little time in the sun, you’ll always regret spending too much time in the sun.
This also means that you should carry bucket loads of water around with you wherever you go.
8. Avoiding Bangkok During the Rainy Season
Now, in case you’re not in the know:
Bangkok has what is known as a tropical monsoon climate.
The city experiences three, distinct seasons that include a hot season (March through June), a rainy season (July through October), and a cool season (November through February).
And while November is most definitely the best time to visit Bangkok (Since not only is the weather cool and dry, but the holiday crowds haven’t arrived yet):
I would still consider traveling to Bangkok during the rainy season too.
I know the rainy season may sound ominous and scary since you might assume that it rains all day, every day, but that’s really not the case.
I’m in Bangkok right now, during the rainy season, and it doesn’t even rain every day. And when it does rain, it lasts for like an hour and then stops.
And added bonus?
Because the rainy season is considered low tourist season, you’ll actually get the added benefit of lower hotel prices AND less crowded tourist areas!
HOORAY! Two things that I totally love!
So, when trip planning for Bangkok, do not rule out a visit during the rainy season.
It really is the BEES KNEES! Okay, I’ll stop with my overwhelmingly dorky ways…for now (insert evil laugh here).
9. Taking an Overpriced Tourist Boat
Look, I get it.
You’re in Bangkok, you see the slightly dirty looking, Chao Phraya river, and immediately want to hop on a totally touristy river cruise, that offers amazingly scenic views of Bangkok.
I mean, how could you resist?
Especially when they tell you that you’re gonna see the AMAZNG, Amphawa Floating Market along the way (Trust me, this market really isn’t all that impressive and you can definitely skip it, in my humble opinion)?
Who doesn’t want to kick their heels up in a boat and effortlessly glide past all of the exquisite, traditional temples that sit nestled up against the river?
I know I do!
But trust me, there’s a much CHEAPER way of doing it.
So, if you want to save oodles of cash (And who doesn’t?):
Then why not try stopping by one of the city’s many, canal-side piers, and hopping on a traditional, long boat instead?
Bangkok is known as the Venice of the east, and for good reason.
There are canals everywhere in Bangkok and you’ll easily be able to find a nice, quiet little pier where you can catch a more authentic, MUCH cheaper, boat ride with the locals,
I’d recommend boarding a ferry at Phanfa Bridge and then traveling up through the city, past Jim Thompson’s House.
All along the way:
You’ll find fantastic views of the city and see the beautifully dynamic street art the adorns the walls of Bangkok’s many canals.
10. Falling for a Scam
I’m pretty certain that no one goes to Bangkok fof the first time and thinks, “Oh gee, I’d really like to fall for a scam.”
But guess what?
It heppens to the best of us since these scams are common for a reason. And its because they WORK!
I know I fell for a scam or two my very first time in Bangkok.
I most definitely do NOT want that to happen to you.
Here is a handy list of some of the most common scams in Bangkok that you will defintiely want to stay far, far, far away from!
1. The Grand Palace is Closed Today Scam
This is one of the best known scams in all of Bangkok, and yet, tons of people sitll fall for it every single day,
Be on guard when you’re walking around some of Bangkok’s top attractions, like the Grand Palace (Wat Phra Kaew), Wat Pho, or even Khaosan Road.
Because honestly, this is a scenario that you’ll probably encounter.
A SUPER happy, Thai stranger will come up to you and make small talk by asking things like, “Oh, where are you from?”
This OVERLY nice person will then ask where you’re going and quickly ascertain if this is your first time in Bangkok.
If it is your first time in Bangkok:
The story will start something like this. “Oh you want to see the Grand Palace today? Such bad luck because it’s closed for the whole day for a special royal event!”
This scam will occur far from the entrance so that you can’t actually see the hordes of people walking right inside.
To make up for the fact that the Grand Palace (or any other major attraction) is “closed” today, this “kind” stranger will offer to help you out and take you to some of the other great temples in Bangkok, in his tuk tuk.
And all for the bargain price of 20 to 40 baht! Amazing right? He’ll even be your guide too! LUCKY YOU!
As soon as you hear that some major attraction in Bangkok is closed, immediately walk away and visit for yourself.
Because in reality:
This attraction will probably not be closed and this not-so-helpful stranger is just trying to take you to an ‘Authorized’ TAT (Tourism Authority of Thailand) agency to score some AMAZING travel deals or to a gem store where you can buy some EXQUIAITE gems for an insanely discounted price.
This is all just one GIANT scam since there are no deals and you’ll just end up being charged high prices for crappy stones or lame tours.
So to avoid this scam altogether:
Always remeber that while it is totally normal for a Thai person to be friendly and want to help you when you need it, it is most definitely not nornal for a Thai person to offer to help you when you DON”T need it.
If that does happen, it’s a huge red flag that you’ll probably want to stay away form.
2. Tuk Tuk Scam
In this Bangkok scam du jour:
You’ll see Tuk Tuks that are just sitting there, parked outside of various landmarks, hotels, shopping malls, and any other touristy area that you can think of.
Board one of these rogue tuk tuks:
And you’ll be charged an exorbenant fee for traveling a short distance.
They might even have the audacity to ask, “Can you please help me get free gasoline by just stopping at a gem shop for a few minutes? You don’t even have to buy anything. You can just look around and leave.”
Now, as you can probably guess:
This is all a scam and you’ll be charged a ton of money for a pretty piece of colored glass.
To avoid this scam altogether, try not to use Tuk Tuks that are parked outside of major tourist attractions.
And if your driver happens to ask you to make an addtional stop:
Just say no since normal drivers won’t ask you to stop somewhere that you don’t want to go.
***There’s also a similiar scam involving taxis that just sit outside of four and five star hotels all day. They usually park there and wait for unsuspecting passengers, who think that these cabs are actually associated with the hotel. In reality, these taxis are in no way affilated with the hotel. Therefore, if you do decide to take one of these vehicles, you’ll quickly realize that the meter is off. And when you ask the driver to turn the meter on, he’ll ignore you and try to charge you an obscene fee. Therefore, instead of taking one of these taxis, try hailing one that is driving along the street instead.***
3. Ping Pong Scam
I haven’t experienced this one personally but apprently:
You’ll be walking through Patpong Night Market and an older Thai gentleman will randomly come up to you and ask, “Ping Pong Show?”
He’s not talking about a nice little mattch of table tennis.
The type of show that he’s referring to usually involves a skantily clothed young woman, a ping pong ball and, well…you can imagine the rest.
And while the man might insist that there is no cover charge and that the drinks at the show are just 100 baht a piece, you’ll discover the true nature of this scam once you get the bill at the end of the night.
While you didn’t actually have to pay anything to enter the bar/club and while your drinks really did cost just 100 baht a piece, what your little friend forgot to mention is that you’re actually expected to buy drinks for all of the girls who perform for you!
A tiny detail that will typically double the cost of your bill.
It gets better because you’ll also be charged a “looking” fee, which typically costs between 3,000 and 6,000 baht per person.
If anyone out there tries to take you to a ping pong show, just quickly walk away.
No good will ever come from a show like THAT.
4. The Khlong Scam
Similar to the tried and true, Grand Palace scam of old:
In this scam, an incredibly friendly Thai man will approach you, after seeing that you look somewhat lost and confused.
He will then proceed to ask the usual, non intrusive questions like, “where do you come from” and so on.
He’ll even provide an anecdote or two about your home country, just to make you feel more at ease.
He’ll offer you a ride on his friend’s longtail boat, at an incredibly low price, just so that you can see all of the famous khlongs (AKA canals) in Bangkok.
If you do decide to take this boat tour, everything will seem totally fine…until your reach the end of your tour.
Because when you’re about 200 meters from the pier.
Your new “friend” will suddenly stop the boat and demand an additional 1,000 baht, or more, for the boat ride.
And no matter what you say, or how much you argue, the boat will never move any closer to the pier.
You’ll end up paying the guy off since you don’t realy want to take an impromptu swim through one of Bangkok’s many canals.
Sure, they’re nice to look at. But I don’t think anyone acyually wants to take a swim through that rather ominous looking, brown water.
This scam is super easy to avoid, Just try and stay away from strangers who approach you out of nowhere and who make offers that seem way too good to be true.
11. Flushing Toilet Paper Down the Toilet
Like in most cities around the world, you’ll see signs plastered all over the bathroom stalls of Bangkok.
Signs that silently plead:
“Please madame, don’t flush paper down the toilet.”
Now, if you’re American like me:
You might be thinking that when that sign says paper, it’s referring to either paper towels or sanitary napkins or heck, maybe even tampons.
If that’s what you were thinking, you’d be wrong.
In many developing nations, the plumbing just isn’t as advanced as what you’d find in many developed countries.
To avoid any and all un-due toilet cloggage, many businesses will ask you not to flush toilet paper down the toilet, in addition to all that other stuff that I mentioned.
Once you’re done with the bathroom, just use that handy little, pint-sized garbage bin to throw out all of your slightly used toilet paper.
I know it feels a bit weird but trust me, you definitely don’t want to leave a Mount Vesuvius type eruption of raw sewage behind you in the bathroom.
Definitely not a look anyone is going for.
PS: Always carry some extra toilet paper with you since many bathrooms don’t have their own (Yup, we call this BYOTP or Bring Your Own Toilet Paper).
12. Assuming Everything in Bangkok is SUPER Cheap
I don’t know about you:
But during my first time in Bangkok, I definitely thought that anything and everything was gonna be hella cheap.
I had visions of $0.50 lunches at five-star hotels dancing through my head.
I even contemplated bathing in champagne since things were gonna be THAT cheap.
I am sad to say that I quickly found out just how delusional I really was.
Now in fairness:
Bangkok definitely isn’t as expensive as either London or NYC (but not too many cities are).
While you really can find some cheap accommodations and delicious, budget friendly street food throughout the city, that’s where the bargain basement prices end.
If you want to dine at a nice-ish restaurant here, you could easily spend upwards of 400 baht ($13) on a single, non-alcoholic drink and entree.
And while that may not sound like much:
If you do that for every meal you eat, you’ll be spending upwards of $40 a day on food, and food alone.
Try to be aware of what you spend and don’t throw money around like a total baller (unless you’ve got the cash flow of J.K. Rowling) since Bangkok really can be as expensive as you make it.